Digital development in Kuopio

18.8.2021 - 10:30

Digital development in Kuopio is going forward under the banners of service design and customer-centredness – which means inhabitant-centredness, as the Kuopio’s services are first and foremost meant for those who live there.

To some digitalization and digital development sound like the trendy buzzwords of more than fifteen years ago. In those days, services were beginning to migrate online, and paperless offices were promised to be on their way in a few short years. 

To other Finns, all things digi recall actor Sulevi Peltola, who gave voice to folksy scepticism of the promises of the digital world in the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s public service announcements about digital TV.

The digital development of the city is a wide field, but one with a clearly defined goal:

Refining processes so as to make the best use of technology in work.

Technology made ubiquitous

– Some good examples of the digitalization of services include the diversification of library services, as well as the very popular Vilkku bicycles, which could never have been made to work without digital development, says Kuopio Mayor Jarmo Pirhonen.

Arto Holopainen, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Kuopio, and Jari Torvinen,the city’s Director of ICT Services, say some further examples include the booking system for boat berths, the electronic building permit system, as well as the City’s feedback e-service.

– In the old days, the city might receive feedback through a variety of channels: people contacted the customer service point and civil servants directly over the phone and by e-mail. The variety of ways of processing this feedback meant that individual items might easily be omitted, lost in transition, or incorrectly attributed so they missed the people actually responsible for the matter, says Torvinen.

Using the online system, feedback can be very precisely targeted, allowing the sender and receiver to communicate directly over the same matter.

– Let’s say an inhabitant wants to put in a complaint about a pothole in a road. The system lets them specify where the pothole quite exactly is, and also lets them see who else has already submitted feedback about the same issue, says Holopainen.

Human-centred development

Even though a single new web page may be all the user sees, new products are not developed in a single week. Jari Torvinen relates the complex process behind service development:

– It took several years for us to develop the permit service, because there were so many backend processes we had to take into account, both from the staff and the user perspective. Discussions with all the different stakeholders take time, and in addition, we have to take our time to ensure the site is completely reliable, the data security is impeccable, and all the systems work together as one integrated whole.

Kuopio is hardly alone in the digital development business. It is part of a national project being funded with project grants from the Finnish state and the European Union. Some of the ongoing projects in Kuopio include the OmaKunta project to develop e-services in conjunction with the municipality of Siilinjärvi, as well as the Human-centred Digital Municipality (Ihmiskeskeinen digitaalinen kunta IDK) project to survey and develop the digital skills of city personnel.

The “Human-centred” in the title of the latter project is more than just coincidence or jargon.

– We have to remember in all the development we do that the inhabitant is the subject, not the object. These services are being developed for people to use. Engaging inhabitants as much as possible over many media would be best for every project, says Pirhonen.

Arto Holopainen agrees:

– These services are being developed in a customer-centred way, that is to say, to be of use to inhabitants. Unless we can include inhabitants in the development work, we run the risk of releasing a product that cannot serve the city’s customers, its inhabitants, in the way intended, says Holopainen.

Digi is no longer a laughing matter

Despite the strides made in technological development over the last ten years alone, at times it feels like services, especially in the public sector, are lagging behind. The problem lies, as usual, not with the technology, but with the user.

– The thing most often slowing the adoption of new services is a traditional resistance to change. Many people harbour some fear of processes becoming more difficult to navigate, even though the focus of the development work is service design dedicated to getting rid of superfluous processes, says Torvinen.

– In truth, things become easier. Much of what used to be necessary paperwork will become unnecessary. It used to be the case in some instances that we needed to print out a paper, sign it, and then scan it back to another electronic system. Online identification and electronic signatures make this entirely unnecessary, says Torvinen.

But if processes are removed, do we run the risk of robots taking over human jobs? Arto Holopainen does not think so:

– Work is hardly going to vanish from the Earth. Rather, we are able to make more productive use of the work people now do and make jobs more diverse. Fears such as these have constantly been expressed as technology develops, but we have always ultimately found it is possible to make better use of the time we now spend doing dull labour.

The Human-Centred Digital Municipality (IDK) project (1.1.2020-31.12.2022) is funded by the European Social Fund, the ELY Centre for South Savo, the City of Kuopio, and the Savonia University of Applied Sciences.

The OmaKunta concept work towards e-services (9.12.2020-31.10.2022) is funded by the Municipal digitalisation incentive system of the Finnish Ministry of Finance, the City of Kuopio, and the Municipality of Siilinjärvi.

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